Disclaimer: Naruto is the intellectual property of Masashi Kishimoto, Shueisha, VIZ Media, et al. No money is being made from this story and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This story was written for lynati_1, to the prompt: And if you're continuing with the prompts, I'd like to submit one for something on Aburame Shino, since he's one of the most underwritten secondary Naruto characters in fandom. (Or canon, for that matter.) Given the nature of the Aburame clan's signature technique, if insects squick you, don't read this. The story also mentions war tragedies and miscarriage.
This story has been slightly revised from its livejournal form.
Summary: Team 8 in a quiet moment during the timeskip, with lots of speculation about the origin and nature of the Aburame clan's bond with their kikkai. Fluffy enough to rot your teeth.
The Aburame married each other or civilians, never their fellow ninja.
"But why?" Hinata asked Shino one afternoon in late spring as Team 8 rested under a crabapple tree at the edge of the forest. She was sitting seiza, delicate and beautiful like the porcelain doll she still believed she was. Kiba lounged nearby, dozing against Akamaru's side; they had trained hard that morning.
Shino sat stiff and upright, his back pressed against the tree to hide the quiver of his limbs. His kikkai were nearly ready to swarm, fizzing in his blood like carbonation in soda, and he had almost exhausted his control getting through practice.
"Do you know the history of my clan?" he asked, careful to keep his mouth hidden behind the collar of his jacket. Kikkai tapped legs and feelers on his tongue, tasting the air as it mixed with the chemicals of his body.
Hinata shook her head. Kiba waved his hand in a negative.
"Every person's body is slightly different," Shino began. "You know this: different arrangements of chakra coils, different scents. Some combinations of chemicals are more attractive to insects than others. Many generations ago, the Aburame were simple bee-keepers, until a daughter of the clan noticed that insects - mosquitoes, flies, kikkai, beetles - were particularly attracted to her. In a group of people, she would be the only one to suffer bites and swarms."
"Yeah, and?" said Kiba.
Shino shrugged, just enough to shift the edges of his coat. Even that slight movement startled the kikkai into renewed excitement.
"And one day rogue ninja attacked her village. She had rolled in mud that morning, trying to keep her scent from the flies, and so the trackers missed her. She was the only survivor."
Hinata gasped in sympathetic horror.
"She traveled to a temple and asked the monks to train her in chakra control, under the guise of learning meditation to release her grief. Then she wrote a summoning contract, but because she had no master to guide her, she did it wrong. Instead of summoning a spirit beast from the otherworld, she summoned 'that to which she held affinity.' In other words, insects." Shino tilted his head leftward, dipping an inch to hide the kikkai crawling from his ear. "She was very lucky the kikkai answered first. Some other insects would have eaten her alive."
"That's nice an' all, but I don't get what that has to do with marriage rules," Kiba said, scratching absently between Akamaru's ears. "I'd think ninja would be better, really - we know all about disgusting, so we're less likely to freak over the bug thing."
"Perhaps," Shino conceded, still keeping the stream of kikkai in and out of his ear concealed. "But the kikkai live in our blood now and have learned to eat chakra; we changed them as they changed us. It is symbiosis, not control. Also..." He hesitated.
"If it is a clan secret, Shino-kun, please don't worry!" Hinata said. "We would never ask you to betray your family's trust."
"It's not a secret, precisely. But it's easier to show you first." Shino unzipped his collar. Kikkai crawled over his neck, his shoulders, his collarbones, darting in and out through the pores of his skin. Kiba pulled a face. Hinata blanched, but reached forward with a tentative hand.
"May I... touch?" she asked.
Three kikkai caught her scent, and the faint bleed of chakra that hovered around all ninja, and darted over to her fingers. They tapped and tasted, licking salt and power from her skin. Shino intercepted them on their return flight, letting them dance their pheromone messages on the palm of his hand rather than among their brethren.
"They are telling me about you," he said to Hinata. "They say 'food' and 'salt.' What they don't say is 'safe.'"
"Meaning what, exactly?" asked Kiba. "Like any ninja's ever gonna be safe. Fuck, you're not safe. Or are your bugs too dumb to realize that?"
Shino flicked his fingers, sending the three kikkai aloft to explore the tree, flitting among its fading blossoms. "You are missing the point. The kikkai are hive insects. When they report 'safe,' they mean a place is suitable for building a nest. Ninja organize their chakra in ways that the kikkai find delicious, but which are toxic to them over long exposure."
Kiba sat up and frowned. "Wait a minute. If you're saying what I think you're saying... you mean, when you get married your bugs crawl into your wife's skin and set up house?" Shino nodded. Kiba shot to his feet and pulled Hinata up with him, backing several steps away. "That's sick! How can you- what about- oh, that is just wrong." Akamaru rolled into a guard position at Kiba's heels, but seemed too confused to growl at Shino, whom he knew as a packmate.
Hinata tugged gently against Kiba's grip for a moment, then pressed her fingers to his elbow and slid out of his suddenly lax embrace. "Kiba-kun, thank you for your concern, but please don't jump to conclusions or think badly of Shino-kun. He told us that ninja are immune to that type of colonization. And in any case, I cannot think Shino-kun or his family would allow their kikkai to- to join anyone who had not agreed to the partnership."
Shino nodded at her. "Exactly. Because the kikkai spread, we can only marry those they find chemically compatible. But the kikkai only test blood, not personality, appearance, or talents. We judge that, and we make the situation very clear to anyone who considers marrying into the clan."
Kiba continued to look uneasy. "Yeah, well, I still say it's creepy. And... oh, yuck, you have bugs in your blood. What does that do to your kids?"
"If we are careful and lucky, nothing," Shino said. "If the mother is alone, or her companion becomes tired or distracted, great harm. A child in the womb is too small, its immune system too weak, to support a colony. Our ancestress lost three children to kikkai crawling through the umbilical cord, before she hired a ninja to aid her in controlling the swarm. There are reasons we are a close-knit clan."
Hinata looked stricken. Kiba glanced between her and Shino - his eyes skipped away from the kikkai still crawling thick and black on Shino's skin - and winced. "Sorry I asked," he said. "That's rough. I mean, it's hard enough for outsiders to marry into my clan, and dogs are a lot less creepy than bugs. But... you do find people eventually, right? You're not going to wind up a lonely old man, right? 'Cause if you point out someone the kikkai like, I can totally have Akamaru go around town and pick out anyone who smells kinda similar. It'll be like a dating service!"
Hinata was too polite to giggle. She covered her mouth and turned aside to hide the flush in her cheeks and the sparkle in her eyes.
Shino didn't share her delicacy. He discarded his reserve for a minute - perhaps the kikkai were affecting him, their fizzy, sexual urgency dancing in his veins - and laughed in Kiba's face. His kikkai rose in a humming rush of wings, swirling through the low-hanging branches of the apple tree.
"I'll be fine," he said as he calmed down. "Whatever happens, I will be fine. For now, though, we should return to town."
Kiba tried to hold an offended glare, but it kept melting into rueful amusement. Finally he gave up and grinned. "Okay, okay, I'm an idiot. I get it. Quit looking at me like that, Shino, and help me walk Hinata-chan home."
"Shall we meet at the same time and place tomorrow for practice?" Hinata asked as Shino climbed to his feet, called his kikkai home, and zipped his coat back up to the collar.
Shino tasted the anticipation of the swarm in his blood, and shook his head. "Summer is approaching. Practice without me tomorrow; I will be attending to clan business."
"...And I shouldn't ask what you mean by that, because you just might answer," Kiba said. His grin threatened to split his face, and Akamaru danced at his heels.
"Kiba-kun!" Hinata scolded. "Don't mock Shino-kun; it is not polite."
"But I can't help it; he's such a great straight man!" Kiba told her, grabbing her hand and beginning the long walk back into town.
Shino followed a step behind, listening to his friends bicker and tease. The familiarity of their voices soothed him, and his growing calm passed through his blood to soothe his kikkai, blunting the restless fizz of the incipient swarm. Hinata and Kiba would never feel or taste of home to his kikkai, but the kikkai's judgment was not everything.
The Aburame never married their fellow ninja, but there were other forms of love.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.
Special Notice! Hungrytiger11 has remixed this story for Remix Redux 8. Her brilliant story, "Some Unseen Place on the Opposite Side (An Incompatible Remix)" expands the perspective to show the prices all ninja clans pay for their talents, and is a lovely Hinata character piece as well. You can find it posted at: archiveofourown. org/ works/ 86299